- If the internet breaks under COVID-19 (coronavirus) pressure, it will be because of hardware, not bandwidth.
- Internet access is supplied by hundreds of networked fiber optic cables that circle the entire world.
- Europe has capped bandwidth for streaming services, but it’s temporary and not a big change.
As the world continues to work from home indefinitely because of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, can an increased demand for high-speed internet crash the whole system? While it’s true the amount of internet bandwidth in the world technically is finite, any breakdowns will be at the local and likely hardware level, not in the shared entire amount of internet itself.
Where the Internet Comes From
Today, you’re likely using WiFi if you’re reading this at home. But large offices are often still hardwired with ethernet cables, which can make setting up a large network a lot easier when people are using desktop computers that stay static. All the hardware in that kind of workstation is probably logged by its individual MAC address, and that can also be attached to an IP address based on your ethernet ports.
Businesses already use a ton of bandwidth, and they pay more for it, the same way business flyers account for up to 75 percent of airline profits despite being a small fraction of total passengers. For a long time, business traffic unquestionably dominated, but then streaming services—not just Netflix and other similar platforms, but YouTube, too—rapidly closed the gap and moved ahead. As more and increasingly better content is available to stream in high definition, people keep using up what’s available.
In 2016, Quartz reported video streaming amounted to 70 percent of bandwidth at any given time. On top of that, people stream music (YouTube accounts for 70 percent of this, too), while gamers and other enthusiasts hang out on Twitch and similar services, and we continue to communicate on Facetime and Skype.
So we’re using much more streaming than ever, and that number only continues to climb. All this bandwidth is carried around by networks of fiber optic cables, which are to internet bandwidth what giant power lines are to the electrical grid. Huge, concentrated amounts travel over these “trunk” lines and then branch into the smaller sections of our cities and then our neighborhoods and homes.
And we’re fully linked around the world with the help of over 400 massive, undersea cables that stretch for thousands of miles. It’s easy to walk around with wireless devices and marvel at how internet seems to swirl in the air like a miasma, but everything we use is powered by an omnipresent overlay of wires and antennas that work the good, old fashioned way even with space-age technology. Like a theremin, this huge grid hums with increasing energy based on how close we are to it.
- The Year the Internet Thought I Was MacKenzie Bezos – WIRED
- Easy ways to get the fastest internet connection possible in your home – Komando
- Elon Musk says Starlink internet private beta to begin in roughly three months, public beta in six – TechCrunch
- Verizon is canceling home internet installations during the pandemic – The Verge
- Ethiopia’s internet shutdowns are disrupting millions of lives – Quartz Africa
- How to check if your service provider is throttling your internet – CNET
- 8 charts on internet use around the world as countries grapple with COVID-19 – Pew Research Center
- How to boost your home internet speeds while you’re stuck at home: Tech Support – Yahoo Money
- Welcome (Back) to the Appointment Internet – New York Magazine